Dog DNA Tests: What You Need To Know

Filed in Dog Products on July 27, 2020

Dog DNA TestAre you looking to learn more about Dog DNA tests?

DNA testing is not only popular with humans, but also with dogs.

A number of brands have capitalized on this, and now you can mail your dog’s saliva to a lab to learn all about her DNA.

But these tests often cost upwards of $100. Is satisfying one’s curiosity worth the price tag?

To figure that out, let’s look at all the different aspects of dog DNA tests.

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Why Use a Dog DNA Test?

1. For dog owners, DNA tests are both fun and functional. It’s exciting to learn more about your dog’s ancestry, especially if you adopted your dog from a rescue and can only guess at what breed she is. DNA tests can identify a dog’s exact breed make-up.

2. For puppy owners, some DNA tests can even predict how big a pup will grow to be or how much she will shed. You can also get information about many of your dog’s traits, such as hair type and texture, eye color, and dewclaws. Though many of these may be physically apparent already, some people find it interesting to learn about their dog’s unique genetic composition.

3. DNA tests can provide information about your dog’s health. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of dog DNA tests, aside from breed identification, is the information they can provide in regards to your dog’s health. If you know what diseases your dog may be prone to, your vet can screen for them regularly, and when possible, you can work on prevention.

For instance, if you found out that your dog has a higher risk for diabetes, you could remain proactive about keeping her at a healthy weight and potentially even change her diet based on your veterinarian’s recommendations.

4. You can learn about your dog’s “genetic age.” Unfortunately, DNA tests are not able to tell you how long your dog has been alive, but they can tell you something about their genetic or biological age.

Genetic age measures how old their body acts like it is by looking at your actual cells to see the state of their systems and organs.

DNA is housed inside chromosomes that exist in every cell of our dog’s bodies. At the end of each chromosome are protective caps called telomeres.

As our dog’s bodies age, (and ours too, for that matter), these telomeres tend to get shorter in length. Therefore, by studying how short the telomeres of your dog’s chromosomes are, scientists can estimate your dog’s genetic age.

Scientists may also take into consideration your dog’s sex, breed, calendar age (if known), and whether or not inbreeding exists in your dog’s ancestry when estimating genetic age.

Just as it is helpful to know about what health risks your dog may face, genetic age can help you determine if you need to make any changes in your dog’s lifestyle.

5. Breeders can use DNA tests to produce puppies with the fewest possible health risks. Many purebred dogs are the result of inbreeding (the breeding of closely related animals). When breeds were first being established, inbreeding was rather common in order to preserve the desired appearance that would become standard to a breed.

Unfortunately, this created a number of health problems for purebred dogs. Responsible breeders today are working to undo this damage by breeding only the healthiest of dogs. DNA testing can help breeders identify health risks in dogs so that these issues won’t be passed to future generations of the breed.

If you’re ever interested in purchasing a puppy from a breeder, make sure that they’ve performed these DNA tests on their sires and dams (responsible breeders order a number of tests for their dogs, collectively referred to as “health testing”).

How Accurate Are Dog DNA Tests?

The accuracy of dog DNA tests is not universal and depends on the brand you choose. Some brands have a much larger database of genetic information that they can compare with your dog’s DNA. The bigger the database, the more accurate results a brand can provide.

Not only that, but some brands also have connections to authorities in the field. For instance, Embark has a partnership with Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. This helps them keep up to date with research in canine genetics.

Though most brands (aside from Embark) will not provide any numerical claims of accuracy, the most accurate brands — Wisdom Panel and Embark — are believed to be between 90% and 99.9% accurate.

How Does DNA Testing Work? 

There are a few different brands that offer DNA testing kits for your dog, and the services they offer may vary slightly. Typically, most companies will offer a basic DNA test as well as a premium test.

The basic tests provide information about your dog’s breed, relatives, and ancestry. The premium tests include information about health risks and physical traits (body features, coat color and texture, etc.) on top of what’s offered in the basic test.

DNA kits come with a swab, instructions, and prepaid return packaging.

Collecting your dog’s DNA is actually pretty simple. All you have to do is swab your dog’s cheek and use the return packaging provided to send it to the lab. Be sure to follow the instructions provided by the kit you’ve chosen, as some may require you to shake the sample you’ve taken or to activate your kit online before mailing it in.

Depending on the company, it can take between two to six weeks for your DNA test to be processed. Once it’s ready, you’ll receive an email that will take you to your results (you may have to sign in to a website to view results).

How Much Does a Dog DNA Test Cost?

The cost of dog DNA tests varies quite a bit. Some tests are as cheap as $48, whereas others are nearly $200. However, it seems to be true that you “get what you pay for.”

Not only do the more expensive tests provide you with more information about your dog, but they also tend to have far better customer reviews and are more accurate.

If you’re looking to identify your dog’s breed and nothing more, then a cheaper test may be alright. Still, accuracy and health information are arguably worth the splurge.

Brands That Offer Dog DNA Tests

1. Embark

Embark is one of the leading brands of dog DNA tests and has the highest rating of 4.5 stars on Google.

  • Embark examines over 200,000 genetic markers
  • Their database includes over 350 breeds
  • Embark tests for over 190 health risks and 20+ traits
  • The brand claims its tests are 99.9% accurate
  • With the purchase of a test, you gain access to a “canine relative finder” that allows you to connect with people whose dogs are related to yours
  • Embark is the most expensive of the DNA tests on the market offering two different DNA test kits
    • Breed Identification Kit: $129
    • Breed + Health Kit: $199

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2. Wisdom Panel

Wisdom Panel is Embark’s top competitor with 4 stars on Google.

  • The Wisdom Panel database includes over 350 breeds
  • Wisdom Panel tests for over 180 health risks and 35+ traits
  • The premium kit tests for carrier status (does your dog carry but not express certain health issues?)
  • Both the basic and premium kits provide 25+ tests for medical complications
  • Wisdom Panel is slightly cheaper than Embark with prices under $100.  They offer the following products:
    • Wisdom Panel Essential Kit
    • Wisdom Panel Premium
  • Wisdom Panel does not provide any information on how many genetic markers they test
  • Though Wisdom Panel claims to be accurate, they do not specify a percentage of accuracy

Other brands that provide dog DNA tests include DNA My Dog and DNAffirm. However, these two brands have received less than stellar ratings on Google, and their accuracy seems questionable at best.

Conclusion

Though it is exciting to learn about our dog’s ancestry, dog DNA tests can do so much more. These tests can provide pet parents with valuable health information, enabling them to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to their dog’s health.

DNA tests can even be used by breeders to ensure their sires and dams aren’t passing any health conditions on to their offspring.

Though some brands’ DNA tests are more accurate than others, the best of the best are 90% to 99.9% accurate.

DNA tests are simple to use. All you have to do is swab your dog’s mouth and mail the sample back to the company for testing. Results are usually received within two to six weeks, depending on the band.

While some DNA tests can be as cheap as $48, it may be worth it to splurge on a more expensive test. Cheaper tests tend to be less accurate and far less detailed.

Does a dog DNA test sound like something you’d try?

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